The first thing you need to know is why you want to improve your fitness and what you want that to really look and feel like.
Is your goal to get fitter so you can play sports again? Do you want to look awesome for your own satisfaction? Do you want to be powerful so that you feel more physically intimidating? Do you want to be healthier? Or maybe attract members of the opposite sex? And what is your current situation? What have you tried in the past? Why has it not worked? What is your current shape and size? What are your physical strengths and best attributes? What do you enjoy doing? How much time do you have?
This is all very important because it is going to drastically change the way you go about accomplishing your objectives.
For example, if you are a man and your goal is to be more physically intimidating, then you might decide that it makes the most sense to bulk. This means adding the most mass possible in the shortest amount of time, in order to become a tank. It involves eating a ton of calories and even more protein, resting a lot and lifting heavy weights.
On the other hand, if you want to become toned and lean to attract women, then you are going to want to eat less and get more aerobic exercise such as walking, running, skipping etc.
You also need to think about the exercise that you enjoy doing, the exercise that is practical to work into your routine, any physical limitations such as illnesses or joint problems etc.
How to Set and Stick to Realistic Goals
One of the most important considerations when coming up with a training program, is making it fit into your routine. Think about when you have time free, how your energy levels are at different points during the day and what you can do to capitalize on the moments in your routine that are free for training etc.
Fitting it In
- One of the best ways to lose weight for example is to walk more. Walking is ideal because it burns a good number of calories without exhausting you, or making you sweaty. That means you can conveniently fit it into your routine and do it regularly without it becoming unfeasible.
Also most of us can easily fit more walking into our routine. For example, you might find that you can use your lunch break at work to go on a long walk. If you have 60 minutes at lunch, you can eat for 10 minutes and spend the other 50 walking (it’s best to walk at the end of the 60 minutes).
A 50 minute walk each day should easily be enough to hit your 10,000 step goal, which is around 5 miles and should lead to an additional 3,000 calories (roughly) burned each week. That’s the amount of calories you normally burn in a day. More importantly it will build your fitness significantly, give you more sunlight and fresh air etc.
- So forget trying to do intense HIIT workouts 5 times a week that leave you exhausted… just go for a nice walk that will conveniently fit into your routine!
Likewise, you can fit a walk in by getting off the bus early, by walking home from work etc.
- The same goes for diet. I always advise clients to stick to a rigid diet only in the morning and at lunch. Why? Because most of us will want to make our evenings a time to enjoy a fun meal with our partners. Or we want to go out with friends and enjoy pudding. Conversely, breakfast and lunch tend to be more functional – eaten alone and in a hurry. That means you can much more easily reduce your calories or your carbs at this time during the day and then ‘cut lose’ in the evening. Think about ways you can make this more convenient for you too. If you pass a shop that sells protein shakes in bottles each morning, then maybe switch your morning coffee for a morning protein shake. This is ideal if you find that the thought of mixing your protein shake and getting it all over the floor potentially is putting you off of actually eating it! Another example might be to workout from home if you are struggling to get to a gym, or to take up swimming if there just so happens to be a pool next to your office.
- Your exercise should be something you enjoy. If you have tried and failed to build lean muscle with weights, then clearly you’re not cut out for it. Apparently it just doesn’t appeal to what you enjoy.
But all of us should find there’s some form of exercise we enjoy. Maybe you should get yourself a pair of parallel bars (which are very cheap) and take up gymnastics or hand-balancing at home?
Or instead, how about taking up rock climbing. Rock climbing is fantastic for building big, powerful muscle, particularly in the lats and forearms. Maybe you’ll find you love boxing: getting yourself a heavy bag is a great, enjoyable way to build big shoulders in particular. Or maybe you might be cut out for power lifting?
Whatever the case, find a form of training. This is what all the most powerful people with the most incredible physiques have in common. They don’t just love being big, they love getting big. They eat, sleep and dream the gym and they love everything from the feeling of the chalk on their hands, to hanging out with other swole people.
You need to discover that passion not just for the end destination but for the journey to get there.
Play to Your Strengths
- Some people are ectomorphs naturally, some are endomoprhs. This determines whether you’re a big, bulky type or a lean ‘hard gainer’.
Where possible, try to align your goals to your natural strengths (remember step 2?). So for example, if you are an endomorph, then you can focus on becoming a massively powerful hulk. If you’re an ectomorph, then why not go for the lean look that a lot of people love?
There’s nothing wrong with chasing after the harder dream of course but if you’re flexible, shoot for the one that you’re already gifted in. That way, the results will come faster and you’ll find it more intrinsically rewarding, more quickly.
Another tip is to find role models that are similar to you. Look for people who started in your situation, people who have body types similar to your own, but who have made the very most of them. Those are the people to listen to when it comes to training advice because they have worked with (most likely) a similar genetic starting point and similar set of circumstances in life to begin with.
Take it Slow
- Remember what we said in the earlier chapters: a good goal for fitness should involve working out for 15 minutes, maybe even 10 minutes. Don’t come up with insane strategies that involve training twice a day, or you’ll find that you gain muscle quickly and lose it quickly. Be willing to see small improvements over time so you don’t burn out.
Conversely though, don’t take it so slow as to not see results. The objective here is to use the MED – or ‘Minimum Effective Dose’. That means you’re committing just enough time to actually see progress, so that you can start to assess and judge your strategy and so that you can improve it over time. Don’t do more, don’t do less.
By doing all of this, you should have come up with a training program that is effective for you specifically and for your lifestyle and genetics.
If you have tried and failed to take up weightlifting several times in the past, then maybe it’s time that you took a different approach by swimming three times a week after work. Or by getting a heavy bag and punching that for 40 minutes a few times a week. Maybe you just do 15 minutes of press ups before bed.
Whatever the case, start doing something right away and then experiment to find what works for you.